Selling a Straw Bale House

As a licensed contractor, I have the opportunity to build houses for people who want straw bale construction. I also have the dubious task of trying to share with clients who do not know about straw bale construction why they should go that direction. The latter is very difficult and, in fact, a bit frustrating in my opinion. I have worked hard for many years to teach people about the merits of straw bale construction and yet find myself amazed at how many people have still never heard of the technique. These folks seem to struggle with the concept and nothing I say seems to help them relax into the idea. Here’s what I have learned (be forewarned, some of it is depressing):

1. People like the idea of saving money. This sounds like it would go hand in hand with straw bale construction because of the high energy savings, but here’s the twist: most people want to save money right away. Many clients I have built for or have tried to create a contract with want “everything” and they only want to pay a little for it. This is common knowledge amongst most builders. With straw bale construction, your initial costs are higher but your long term costs are much lower. I have tried to show people that, and the response is very often…”Hmmm. I like the granite counters, the stainless steel appliances, the bamboo floors, the fine cabinetry, but I can’t afford all of it…How much would I save if we got rid of the bales?” It is true that they save a considerable amount of money and can then afford the items they want up front, but if they stayed with the bales, they could afford those items and more over time. Over time is where I lose people.

2. Many home buyers only plan to stay in the home for 5 years. With that as a backdrop, the idea of long term savings is lost on them. If they can’t recoup the cost of a bale wall and a solar system in 5 years, then it is money lost.

3. People want to see their money in a home. As mentioned in number 1 above, people like high ticket items to be visible to the World. Many (not all mind you) would rather spend money on fancy appliances than on bale walls even if it means they will pay for it for the next 5-30 years!

4. The beauty of bales sells. There is nothing as powerful as walking a client through a finished bale home. If you have clients who will allow you to bring visitors through their home, do so. If those clients are home and are happy with the job you did, even better. They are the best marketing tool you can find. When I take clients who don’t know what straw bale houses look like through a finished home, they very often spend the first 5 minutes trying to pick their jaw up off the ground! You can’t explain what it is like inside a bale home, you have to walk them through.

5. A plaster job can make or break a home. Don’t skimp on this detail. Believe me, it is the first thing that people see when they view your home.

6. Have accurate stats available on energy savings. Don’t say: “these homes are really great and can save you money.” Instead, tell prospective clients that the owners of the home they are currently standing in are saving $250 every month on their energy costs. Show them how the light fixtures you use save money. Show them how the bale walls play into the equation. Tell them about all the details they can’t see and how they work together. Here’s the trick…..Do this AFTER they have walked through the house with their jaw on the floor. If you present all of that upfront, it will be lost on them. Once they see the home and fall in love with it, then tell them how they can save money and be green in the home. Then tell them how much it will cost. The cost of the home will not be as important once they know they can save it back while living in an amazing house.

Labels: For Sale

27 Responses to Selling a Straw Bale House

  1. manny stiles Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:15 pm #

    At 10:53 AM, Manny Stiles said…

    I am planning to build and live in a straw bale house (I live in Arizona where SB seems a no-brainer) sometime within the next five years.

    I have searched the entire internet and your information and site are BY FAR the most imformative and most helpful. Thanks for your efforts and I look forward to visiting many times!

  2. andrew Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:16 pm #

    At 10:46 PM, Andrew Morrison said…

    Manny,
    Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate your support and hope that we can continue to provide useful information to you and others.

  3. green dude Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:16 pm #

    At 2:24 PM, Green Dude said…

    WE hope at Listed Green we could help out with that difficult task of selling a green home.
    The typical MLS does not embrace green, energy efficient building practices.
    Listed Green will be the biggest and the best, because all listings are previewed before they are posted to remove “greenwashing”, like similar venues appear to do.
    Listed Green elevate value and awareness of sustainable, green building.

  4. rhandy Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:17 pm #

    At 8:06 PM, Randy said…

    What about the area near Abiquiu New Mexico? Would the climate there work for a stawbale home?

  5. andrew Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:18 pm #

    At 10:42 PM, Andrew Morrison said…

    I think the climate would be perfect in Abiquiu. I have to admit that I have not been there in years, but I recall it is a desert environment North of Espanola and Albuquerque. If I am not mistaken, it is also where the Ghost Ranch Living Museum used to be. Anyway, that climate would be great as long as you design for heavy rains which are the norm there during the rainy season (again going on memory). Large overhangs would be sufficient to make that a perfect place for bales.

  6. anonymous Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:18 pm #

    At 9:06 AM, Anonymous said…

    WHAT ABOUT SOUTHERN INDIANA?

  7. andrew Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:18 pm #

    At 4:08 PM, Andrew Morrison said…

    Southern Indiana should also be fine. I do not know the climate as well as I do other places, but it should be fine there. If anything like Iowa, it gets hot and humid in the summer and cold and dry in the winter. That is a climate suitable for bales.

  8. anonymous Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:19 pm #

    At 6:00 PM, Anonymous said…

    Bob here, I own property up in Washigton in the Okanogon Highlands, some call it the Banana Belt, I hope to start building in about 2 years. What is your thoughts of that area which is close to Oregon in weather conditions.

  9. Andrew Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:19 pm #

    At 7:46 AM, Andrew Morrison said…

    Bob, Oregon has a lot of weather and many micro climates, so it is hard for me to know exactly what kind of weather you have up in the Highlands. For example, I only get about 11″ precipitation where I live and Eugene gets about 30″ or so. If it helps, there are bale homes in Seattle, Portland Corvallis and Eugene, as well as dryer climates. Those homes are doing well and as long as the home is designed and built properly, it will be fine. Make sure to have adequate overhangs and if two story, a mid level roof to protect the lower floor. I would set the windows and doors flush to the exterior of the home as well. I hope that helps!

  10. anonymous Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:19 pm #

    At 1:50 PM, Anonymous said…

    Andrew, I am from St. Petersburg, Russia. We have a pretty cold climate overhere. I could compare it to south of Alaska. Do you think straw bale would succeed here?

    Thank you.

  11. andrew Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:20 pm #

    At 9:04 AM, Andrew Morrison said…

    The colder the climate the better! AND the hotter the climate the better! In fact, straw bale functions extremely well under both conditions. As long as you have a hewat source, the efficiency of the bale walls will be a blessing. If you have a source for cool air in a hot climate, like cool evening breezes, then the same is true. The bales act as an insulator from outdoor temperatures, not as a storage mass like adobe or cob.

  12. travis Thu, September 6, 2007 at 1:20 pm #

    At 9:58 AM, Travis said…

    Hi,
    I just got back from Iraq and it was amazing as to what they live in. I bought 40 ac NW of Casper, Wy. I wil be looking into building a Bale house soon. first I plan to build a barn for my horses. Practice makes perfect, so the horses get to be the gueny pigs. What do you think of the area? Usually below zero in winter, dry snow and ave 90 in summer.
    Travis
    Busted knuckle Ranch
    Caasper, Wy

  13. miguel Tue, January 15, 2008 at 8:11 am #

    a couple of questions;
    you talk about the added expense of building green. i assume this is not actually related to straw bale building, but to other features of a green home…? i had always assumed that i would save a little bit of money by building with bales…
    can you point me in the direction of anything helpful in the southeast. particularly around birmingham and tuscaloosa alabama?
    thanks very much,
    m.

  14. Andrew
    Andrew Wed, January 16, 2008 at 8:02 am #

    Miguel,
    Building with bales is typically 20% more expensive than a conventional home if you hire some one to build the house for you. If you do it yourself, you can save money, but if you factor in the cost of your time away from work, it may end up being cheaper to hire some one to build it right from the start with no time away from work for you. You might try contacting the folks at the following address (bm-recep@ci.huntsville.al.us). They are in Huntsville.

  15. Brittany Fri, August 22, 2008 at 12:44 pm #

    Andrew,

    The comment above is dealing with northern Alabama, what about southern Alabama? Close to the florida line, it’s very very humid and I was wondering if it would be smart to build with straw bales here where it feels like your stepping into a sauna the moment you step out your front door. Also, do people generally put a/c units in straw bale homes, is it ok to do so? As I mentioned, it’s very hot and humid here and most people can’t survive without one. Thanks Ahead

  16. Andrew
    Andrew Fri, August 22, 2008 at 5:39 pm #

    I would be concerned about the excess humidity. You can use an AC unit and a whole house dehumidifier to help out, but the overall humidity may be too much for the bales to handle. Unfortunately, some areas are not great for bale construction. There are some structures in Georgia and that area is pretty humid so you might research them a little and get some first hand feedback. Check out the registry at http://www.Greenbuilder.com for info on the homes in your area or areas with similar climates. You can often contact the owners directly. Good luck and let me know what you find please. I am always curious about these types of situations.

  17. Svetlana Ireson Sat, December 10, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    What? I dont know that, i think is working diffrent.

  18. Dania Mildenstein Sun, December 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    I’m still learning from you, but I’m improving myself. I definitely enjoy reading everything that is posted on your website.Keep the information coming. I liked it

  19. Matt Thu, December 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    Didn’t read the whole thread, but to the person wondering about straw bale in southern Indiana: Bloomington has built a straw bale habitat for humanity house. There are other structures as well – additions and hermitages and whatnot around here. It works. Here’s a link to one in Brown County: http://www.harvestbuild.com/kruggel.html

  20. Gerald Goodman Mon, March 28, 2016 at 9:58 am #

    What is the best way to sell a straw bale house in Alaska. We are on the Strawbale registry. Our house is finished, with acreage and is very unique

  21. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Mon, March 28, 2016 at 10:20 am #

    Hi Gerald. If you have a local real estate agent to work with, that is always helpful as agents have access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and can thus get your house in front of a lot of people. I can also offer you help in selling the home. If you are interested, you can send me a description and some photos, along with all of the listing and contact information and I can post it on the blog, our Facebook page, and also in our newsletter. I charge a flat fee of $500 for this, and do not ask for a percentage of the sale price like an agent does. This gets the property out in front of thousands of people with a specific interest in straw bale construction. Please let me know if you are interested, or just click on this link to reserve your spot and then email the information to me at Andrew@StrawBale.com. I hope to be of help for you.

  22. Eric Foga Thu, April 21, 2016 at 5:32 am #

    My fiance and I are very interested in building a straw bale home. The natural materials and long term savings possibilities are amazing. That being said, we live in Indiana and the moister and ever changing weather conditions are a concern. Do you know of any homes around Indiana that we could view or visit? We would love to see the the building process in action.

  23. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Thu, April 21, 2016 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Eric. I would have no worries about building in Indiana. You may want to check out http://www.GreenBuilder.com and click on the Straw Bale Registry to see if there are houses you can view and owners you can contact. Good luck!

  24. Amanda Furlow Wed, January 17, 2018 at 7:02 am #

    Andrew, I am looking to purchase 30 acres with a tiny cob house and an unfinished straw bale house. Owner will finance, but I would rather do a credit union finance if possible. They ask for similar properties in “the area” that have sold but I’m not sure how to find a similar property that has sold in order to show them for comparison and I’m not sure how big “the area” would be, but I’m guessing anywhere in Kansas would be good. Do you know or can you direct me to a place that might be good to find this information?

    Much appreciation to you in advance. 🙂
    Amanda

  25. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Wed, January 17, 2018 at 8:16 am #

    Hi Amanda. Comp sales are always a bit difficult with straw bale homes as there simply are not a lot of them available. The biggest reason, in most cases, is that people who build bale homes, don’t typically sell them on the secondary arket. They build them and hold on to them. This is actually a really GOOD thing and helps appraisers see their value.

    You can use other “alternative construction” homes in the comps as well. For example: SIPs, Rammed Earth, ICF, Log Homes, etc. Anything outside the norm can work for the comp sale.

    We are building a straw bale house in Wichita later this year. It’s one of my workshop locations. I believe those hosts are paying with case savings, so there may not be a need for comp sales. I will ask them and will let you know if they have any recommendations.

  26. Summra Wed, April 4, 2018 at 8:34 am #

    I have a budget of $80 -100,000 what kind of SB house can I get for this?
    Is Atlanta GA good for SB houses.
    Arizona and Cali are my other options

  27. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Fri, April 13, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

    Hi Summra. Arizona and California are climates that are better suited to straw bale construction than Georgia; however, there are successful bale structures in Georgia as well, so it’s not off the table. You’ll probably get more for your money in Atlanta than in parts of AZ and CA as prices are very high in those states for both land and labor. In terms of what you can get for your dollar, that will depend a lot on the design itself. You’ll want to keep things simple in order to save money. For a contractor built home here in Oregon, you can expect about $150/sf of home, so that’s pretty expensive relative to the money you want to spend. Again, the more simple the design, the less expensive the house will be.

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